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Why businesses must re-balance mental and physical health focus.

World Day for Safety and Health at Work 2021 is a much-needed opportunity for employers to give mental well-being the same attention as physical health, writes LRQA's James Pomeroy.

In a recent LRQA survey of 5,500 people who worked from home during the pandemic, 69% reported higher levels of work-related stress, driven mostly by increasing workloads and changes to working patterns in order to meet resource demands. While 52% confirmed that working from home had improved work-life balance, 22% felt they worked longer hours, 17% felt more isolated from colleagues and 9% more anxious about work.

As business leaders consider future work and health policies, it is clear that more must be done to ensure those struggling with mental health are supported. Whether intentional or not, right now this is not the case. Only one in four (26.5%) in our survey felt employers were putting ‘about the same’ support into mental well-being as physical health and safety.

Supporting team members
Top of the list is how to create a working environment where staff feel encouraged and able to be open about mental health concerns. Worryingly, 48% of respondents to our survey felt that disclosing a mental health condition might impact future career progression. This situation is damaging for employees and employers alike, but how do organizations begin to ensure that policies are truly inclusive?

There are lessons in the approaches taken to promoting physical health. In many countries around the world, it is a legal obligation to provide immediate attention if employees are injured or taken ill at work. As such, we’ve become accustomed to fire safety awareness, managing hazards across the workplace and organizations are expected to have first aiders and appropriate equipment readily available. Yet, when it comes to mental health, is the same level of provision being made?

Driving change through international standards
There are plenty of support mechanisms available for managing mental health issues and our survey suggests that employers are taking notice. Our survey found that 76% of employees felt efforts had been made to implement support, including mental health first aiders and the introduction of more flexible hours.

However, these specific initiatives are just one piece of the puzzle. Team leaders also have a critical part to play, by sharing their own experiences and opening the door for others to speak. This culture of openness becomes self-reinforcing and can transform the working environment.
The ways in which health and safety is measured and reported will also need to change. International standards such as ISO 45001 cover both physical health and safety and broader mental well-being and ensures that progress is truly measurable. Crucially, ISO 45001 provides a framework for reviewing the effectiveness of occupational health and safety management, helping to prioritize action. ISO 45001 certification sends a strong signal of just how seriously businesses are taking the physical and mental well-being of their employees.

ISO/FDIS 45003, an incoming international standard, should also be considered. It is the first to offer practical guidance around the management of psychological health, including how to recognize hazards linked to working remotely.

Final thoughts
World Day of Safety and Health can be a moment for business leaders to reflect on the lasting impact that the pandemic has had and is still having on the world of work. While there are many positive steps already being taken to support staff, it is crucial that momentum is maintained and that actions are reviewed and updated to reflect our new ways of working.

Read the Employee well-being during a pandemic report.

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